空明 Kumei

How I found Kumei is a bit of a long, weird story. Put simply, I was on a date with a guy who had come all the way from the neighboring prefecture to meet me, but that was not going well at all. However I decided to be nice and channel my inner gentleman and give the awkward guy another chance, and we ended up wandering into this place at his choice. I’m glad I put up with the awkwardness, because this restaurant/bar is certainly a gem I would have otherwise overlooked.

Exterior-wise, it is unassuming–a hole in the wall in a dark back alley behind Parco that could go either way as far as positive or negative experiences. However, as soon as you enter, there is a certain warmth that comes over you with the atmosphere–which is fitting for the name, whose characters respectively mean “sky” and “bright.” I can only describe it as a sort of small, classy yet home-y, mom & pop izakaya (pub). It’s quiet, but not stiff–almost like cafe meets bar. Seats and tables are limited, and we ate at the bar, as the table in the back was occupied. This was a godsend, because the two people who run the restaurant are some of the sweetest, easiest to talk to operators I have run into so far. They’re both middle aged–I’d say around 40s or early 50s–and engaging with them in conversation was just the thing I needed to diffuse and buffer the uncomfortableness of my one-on-one date, as I had run out of things to talk about around 20 minutes in. (The subject of grandparents came up, and the lady thought I was raised and living in Japan with my grandma because I brought her up in conversation. Bless her heart and her lack of judgment.)

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The people and the atmosphere they create are not the only excellent things about Kumei–the menu is also fairly good. I give Kumei props because never in my life have I ever been excited or impressed by the otooshi (the tiny plate of horribly overpriced food you never even ordered or wanted, which they give you as a “cover charge”)–if you’re a regular follower, I believe you may have recognized my vendetta against otooshi. However, Kumei is different; when I was handed my dreaded tiny plate of tiny food, I actually became excited for once in my life. Kumei offers you 3 small items: an olive spread, a smoked quail egg, and a sake-infused mini-bagel. These were all original and tasty–and I’m saying this as someone who usually hates olives.

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We ordered black sugar chicken wings, mapodofu, and a classic pizza. The chicken wings were good, but expensive for what you got; the mapodofu was also good, but not amazing; the pizza was REALLY good. They make everything down to the dough from scratch, and you can really tell–it’s fresh and thick and cheesy goodness. It seems you can’t really go wrong with the menu, and there’s something for everyone’s tastes, but definitely order the pizza, because while you can’t go wrong, you can definitely go right (as far as I’m concerned).

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If you’re a drinker, they also have a menu of local sake from the prefecture, and at their recommendation, I enjoyed a glass of “kyokukou” (旭興) from a brewery in Otawara.

I honestly look forward to coming here again. Just make sure you don’t come with a large group, because the place isn’t too much bigger in terms of seating than the yatai (food stalls) right down the street. I recommend you bring a Japanese-speaking/learning friend, as the owners would be more than happy to chat with you.

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空明 (Kuumei)
090-2725-8880
栃木県宇都宮市馬場通り3-3-6 1F 東
Open 5:30-11:00 pm
Closed: Sundays and holidays
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